- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Local fire departments challenged local decision makers to see what it’s like to be a firefighter for a day.

Anderson, Muncie and Alexandria fire departments put local public officials and business owners to the test Saturday to show just how much fire departments actually do.

“Since the time I’ve come on (to the fire department 18 years ago), your tax base starts getting a little tighter,” Matt Cole, Anderson firefighter and event organizer, said. “And that seems to be the case everywhere.”

Cole said fire service is not something you can explain to someone.

“We’ve done that. We’ve tried explaining for a number of years, even before I started 18 years ago,” he said. “They can get in there and they can see this is a lot harder than what it makes it look like on TV.”

Participants went through four scenarios that covered part of the range of duties firefighters have to do every day.

Fire Ops 101 is not a new program, but it is new to Anderson. Cities all over the country have done similar events to show city officials how important funding, staffing and training is for fire departments.

Cole said seeing the success of other departments after doing this program showed him it was time for them to do it in Anderson. The department plans on doing this event every year.

Search and rescue

What many of the participants said was the most challenging was a search-and-rescue exercise.

The firefighters prepared a fake house on the Anderson Fire Department Training Center property to look like rooms, including a kitchen and bedrooms. While the house was filled with smoke, participants had to make their way through the rooms to find a victim that was a dummy.

Part of the challenge was moving the hose through the house, around corners and walls. Cole said it is much more difficult than just dragging a hose on pavement.

Once the team got the “victim” outside, it was a matter of giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Jason Fenwick, Anderson city controller, said the conditions in a search-and-rescue situation are “unreal.”

“Having to negotiate the hose. Low visibility. Short amount of time. Crawling,” he said. “It’s not normal conditions.”

Stephanie Wade, Madison County deputy prosecutor, said she thought the search-and-rescue exercise was the most difficult.

“It’s mentally exhausting,” she said. “But you have to stay with it despite the physical exhaustion because you have to save that person.”

During this exercise, the participants had to crawl up a ladder about 40 feet high with about 75 to 80 pounds of equipment on their person.

Other exercises

Another exercise showed more of what Cole said they do frequently on a daily basis. It was a trauma patient mega code EMS exercise.

Participants had to respond to what would be someone coding, which means someone who is unconscious and not breathing.

Cole said this exercise was important because they do respond to a lot of medical emergencies. Cole said sometimes when a fire truck shows up to a medical emergency, people seem confused or concerned.

Firefighters are firefighters first but paramedics second. They are trained to be able to handle medical situations as first responders.

Participants also did an auto extrication exercise. Smashed cars filled a portion of the field next to the training center.

This exercise showed the need for constant training for firefighters in a way that may not be as obvious to others, Cole said. The technology in cars is constantly changing. An extrication done in a sloppy way can lead to an explosion depending on the car, especially if it’s electric.

Cole said that can lead to someone being injured or even impaled by metal flying off the car.

Part of the exercise was using what the firefighters called a spreader, but is similar to what many know as the “jaws of life.”

Anderson City Councilman Russ Willis looked at the firefighters and said he couldn’t pick up the spreaders, firefighter Cody Leever said.

Being physically fit is very helpful in firefighting, but they still have to pick up a spreader quickly and safely to potentially save someone’s life when it is in danger.

During the exercise, they talked about the “golden hour,” which is the ideal time used from when someone is critically injured to when they are on an operating table, Cole said.

Especially when someone is trapped in a car, saving time on the extrication is essential.

The last exercise was a flashover experience. A flashover is the moment when a room or area reaches the ignition temperature all at once. Cole said firefighters have a matter of few seconds, depending on the distance from escaping, before they are dead.

Participants sat below a controlled flashover situation to watch how quickly it can happen from the time someone calls in a fire to when the firefighters have come in to do what is needed and can leave.

This exercise can be intimidating, Cole said. The conditions are extremely hot, and the smoke is very thick.

After participants walked out of the box in which the exercise was done, they were instructed to not touch themselves or anyone else. Despite the thermal material in the firefighter uniforms, they are so hot it could burn them.

For this exercise, participants were instructed to hydrate themselves in advance. Participants were also told they must be in good health because of the “tremendous stress” of the exercise.

The experience

Following the exercises, participants turned in their gear and had a debriefing and question-and-answer session.

All of the participants seemed to have changed their perspectives following the day of Fire Ops 101.

Jason Jamerson, Madison County deputy prosecutor, said the experience was extremely eye-opening.

“You don’t really know until you come out and do it with them on some level,” he said.

Ty Bibbs, city councilman, said he thinks it is important for all elected officials to have this experience.

“We need to see what really happens on the ground,” he said. “We’re making staffing and financial decisions (that affect the fire service), and now we have real-world experience.”

Willis said he already had a lot of respect for firefighters, as many do, but he said his respect was “ramped up 150 percent.”

“You see the importance of the equipment and training,” he said. “The training is never ending.”

Todd Closser, firefighter and paramedic, said the experience was just as rewarding for the firefighters as it was the decision makers.

“It means a lot to see them put on our boots and do what we do.”

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald-Bulletin, https://bit.ly/1Ov85HK

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com


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